Entering the Guiltless “closet”, even the savviest fashionista is left a little short of breath. With row upon row of open cupboards filled to the brim with designer ensembles and accessories, this finely curated cosmos of couture and collectables houses every imaginable label, emblem and signature design.
In the midst of all this, we find Yen Kuok, clad in a gilded jacket by Manish Arora, and her fashionable crew, all furiously working away on the eve of the re-launch of Guiltless.com, a luxury re-sale site for “pre-loved” (read: secondhand) goods. Luxury shopping at a fraction of the original cost – and with a healthy nod to promoting sustainable fashion – it’s the closest one can get to guilt-free retail therapy.
Kuok’s sartorial style has been noted by many in media, but if the business seems a plaything of an heiress – she’s the youngest child of Malaysian tycoon Robert – think again. It’s a well-thought-out, long-in-the-baking, multilayered structure that marries e-commerce and fashion. In between shots, coffee and Cartier, she explains.
Tell us about Guiltless.
Basically, it’s one of Asia’s first second-hand, luxury-fashion businesses online. In terms of fashion, it’s mainly apparel, handbags, accessories, shoes, and certain lifestyle products, such as home decor, porcelain, vintage Louis Vuitton trunks, limited-edition items and so on. Eventually, we’ll have items for children’s wear and menswear. And also have more emerging top-notch Asian designers.
How did the idea come about?
I was in college in California, where a lot of my friends borrowed clothes from each other and they didn't want to be seen wearing the same kind of things to similar kinds of parties. In college, there was that sisterhood, where you borrowed from each other – the stigma of "second-hand" didn't exist. A few friends also introduced second-hand online stores to me. I became a frequent shopper of those websites, but when I came back to Hong Kong I realised that we don't have this here. I came in at [the right] time to fill this gap in the market.
As great as the idea is, it's not a novel one. Something like eBay can do the same, so why not merge with an established site instead of creating your own?
eBay – or any other local site in the same vein – struggles a lot with second-hand luxury products, because they don't do authentification very well. It relies on the individual sellers, so people on eBay don't give you the benefit of doubt - by default, it's counterfeit unless proven innocent. So we had to create our own website. Then there was the packaging. I wanted it to be really luxurious. So all the ingredients started trickling in. We had good photos, great boxes, tissue paper, stickers ... it all snowballed, so now we're relaunching the web site, which is providing a lot more than it did in its original format.
They say life can teach you more than any prep school. Is that true in your case?
Yes. My dad has never been a huge supporter of business school – he always told us that it's hands-on experience and learning that's the best education. While I was studying in school here in Hong Kong [at Diocesan Girls' School] or when I was in university in the US [at Stanford], he always told me, don't stress over school, it's what you experience in the real life that actually matters.
Which all seems so un-asian – non-tiger- parenting.
Very much so. He didn't finish college, he was very much a self-made man. All of them from that generation – they never went to college, but life and practical experience taught them.
As your business is, of course, fashion and accessories, tell us about your own personal style.
I don't shy away from colours and patterns. I'm not an I-wear-only-black kind of girl. When it comes to diamonds and pearls, I'm a diamond girl. My dad sometimes gives me and my seven brothers and sisters diamonds on special occasions – birthdays and such. I like things that are simple, but I must add a disclaimer here – this might change in the future to larger, bigger pieces!
PHOTOGRAPHY UNTIL CHAN
STYLING SHEENA KHEMANEY
MAKE-UP KAREN YIU AT HONG KONG MAKEUP ARTIST
HAIR SEIFERT CHEUNG
PHOTOGRAPHY ASSISTANTS ABI HO AND STEPHEN CHENG